Hijack! How Your Brain Blocks Performance

So there you are, when suddenly you hear that song
that reminds you of that person. And you’re
emotionally hijacked—just like that. Good or bad,
the song interacts with your neural net and triggers
the emotions you have associated with it.
Emotional hijacks happen every day, often
unconsciously, often with debilitating results.
An expression on a team member’s face
subconsciously reminds you of Mom at her most
critical, yet you have no idea why you dislike
speaking with her. But the team member actually
has chronic indigestion, her facial expression has
nothing to do with you, and she wonders why you
haven’t shown her the report…invited her to the
meeting…told her what’s up…smiled on the way to
the coffee machine.
And so it goes. Trigger—response. Trigger—
response. Trigger—response. All day, every day.
Human beings are meaning-making machines. The
trouble is we often assign meaning where it doesn’t
Now most of these internal programs—the neural
connections and associations we make that give
experience meaning—are programs we “wrote”
between the ages of zero and six years old. Many of
our programs were either provided for us by our
parents, or were coded by our very young and
inexperienced reaction to what we perceived as
threatening people or situations. Even the most
wonderful, well-intentioned parents are going to
make a few coding errors. I know I have.
Now that we are adults, the question becomes, how
can we rewrite our own programs to set the
meaning and get the results we want? Further, as
leaders, how can we assist others to get the results
and experiences they would like? How can we use
this knowledge to increase our own and our team’s
performance, innovation, and engagement?
In my upcoming blogs you’re going to learn how to
deactivate your own and your team members’ fear
triggers, and to assign appropriate meaning. You’re
going to learn exactly what to do to create a team
that acts as a team, one that supports each other to
outperform, outsell, and outinnovate the
competition. A tribe whose culture you created. A
SmartTribe of whom you are justifiably proud.
The Reptile, The Mammal, The Executive
Our brains do an amazing and wonderful job, but
they don’t usually like change very much. You may
like the idea of change. Heck, parts of you may be
very interested in change theory, talking about
change, managing change—and especially
describing how other people should change.
However, actual change involving ourselves is
scary to certain parts of our brain. The parts that
exist to keep us safe have created elegant
patterning based on one-trial learning.
Your brain has three essential parts. The first part—
the brain stem—sits at the base of your skull. This
part is commonly called the reptilian brain. It’s the
oldest and most primitive part of the brain, and it
controls balance, temperature regulation, and
breathing. It acts out of instinct and is primarily a
stimulus-response machine with survival as its
Layered on top of the brain stem is the mammalian
brain. The mammalian brain controls and expresses
emotion, short-term memory, and the body’s
response to danger. The key player here is the
limbic system, which is the emotional center of the
brain where the fight/flight/freeze response is. Its
primary focus is also survival, though it is also the
seat of anger, frustration, happiness, and love.
Let’s combine the limbic system with the survival
mechanism in the reptilian brain. This creates the
powerful combo pack we’ll call the “critter brain,”
as my mentor Carl Buchheit of NLP Marin terms it.
Once our critter brain has equated a particular
phenomenon with safety or with survival, it will
continue to carry out that program. And it will do so
as long as we are not dead, because it really
doesn’t care about our quality of life—it cares about
survival. And speaking of staying alive, one key
component of staying alive is belonging, or being
like the other critters in the environment.
The third part of the brain is the neocortex. This
part of the brain is most evolved in human beings,
and the area of it we are most concerned with is the
prefrontal cortex. The prefrontal cortex enables us
to plan, to innovate, to solve complex problems, to
think abstract thoughts, to have visionary ideas. It
allows us to measure the quality of our experience,
to compare it to an abstract ideal, and to yearn for
change. The prefrontal cortex has enabled us to
have a number of advanced behaviors, including
social behavior, tool making, language, and higher-
level consciousness.
For the purposes of simplicity we’ll distill the above
down to two states: the Critter State, where we
don’t have access to all parts of our brain and thus
are reactive, in fight/flight/freeze, or are running
safety programs; and the Smart State, where we
have easy access to all of our resources and can
respond from choice.
Today, innovation and growth through the next
revenue inflection point depends on making sure
the Smart State–not the Critter State–is driving
management decisions and behavior in
relationships. Management methods that rely on
fear to enforce compliance keep people in their
Critter State, or in old safety and survival patterns,
and reduce innovation. This cultural practice of
keeping people in their Critter State has grown
increasingly obsolete.


4 thoughts on “Hijack! How Your Brain Blocks Performance

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